Identity Governance Blog

What Is Zero Trust Security?

By Stephen Lowing, VP Marketing at Omada

March 5, 2024

The traditional perimeter approach to security was being dramatically altered long before COVID-19. However, the massive shift to a largely remote workforce ushered in as a result of the pandemic accelerated the need for a new approach. Securing access to a range of on-premises and cloud-based applications requires a transformation of identity and access management initiatives. The misguided trust we once had for users inside the corporate perimeter is gone. Attackers only need to be right once; we need to be perfect every time. With the majority of employees now accessing corporate assets from different locations and devices, the process is complicated further.

As a result, the governance of identities is now a key and strategic aspect of cybersecurity programs – and it’s essential to implementing the zero trust model many organizations are now using.


Why use zero trust security?

What is the point of security? To ensure integrity and availability of data? To protect data from unauthorized access? To help you prevent, detect, and respond to threats? To ensure authorized users get the necessary access?

It is all the above. Keep it simple. Security allows you to protect resources and ensure only the right people can access them. Sadly, security is not always simple. We have different types of users from employees, contractors, vendors, partners, and others. Access to any tier of a user may be restricted based on time of day, location, device, authentication method, or a host of other criteria. No matter how you approach it, resources and identities are the two key elements.

In The State of Identity Governance 2024, Omada surveyed more than 550 IT security and business leaders, and more than half of respondents said they have more employees, consultants, and partners working remotely since COVID. Securing remote users’ access to both the on-premises and cloud-based applications they need to do their jobs requires organizations to re-think their identity and access management strategies. Even the most effective deployments of perimeter security are not sufficient to stop external attacks that grow more sophisticated every day.

To address this challenge, organizations must bolster their identity access governance capabilities, and make them strategic elements of their overall cybersecurity programs. They need to adopt and deploy more robust technology to make their Identity Governance and Administration (IGA) a cornerstone of a mature Zero Trust security model.


What is zero trust?

Zero trust is a security model based on the principle of maintaining strict access controls and not trusting anyone by default, even those already inside the network perimeter. Consequently, it is an approach that is set to “deny” and that sees everything and everyone as a threat. The secure access model shifts from the starting point of trusting but verifying to not trusting and verifying continually. The model does this by actively governing permissions and continuous monitoring.

This model aligns with the capabilities that are core to identity governance and administration (IGA). These include the ability to regularly review permissions, require approval workflows, implement separation of duties, and tightly scope user roles, in addition to continuous monitoring and the use of strong forms of authentication. It places identity at the center because all the verification is about the “who” aspect of security.

The zero trust framework can be broken up into three main, fundamental concepts. Understanding these three pillars will help your organization to successfully implement a zero trust security model. So, what are these three main concepts of zero trust?

  1. Verify: Trust nothing and verify everything. This means that no entity—whether inside or outside the network—is trusted by default. Every access attempt, user identity, device, application, and data transaction is rigorously verified before granting access.
  2. Least Privilege Access: Grant the least amount of access necessary for users and devices to perform their tasks. Instead of providing broad access privileges, Zero Trust limits access to only the specific resources and data required for each user’s role or function. This principle helps minimize the potential impact of a security breach or unauthorized access.
  3. Assume Breach: Adopt the mindset that threats exist both inside and outside the network perimeter. Instead of assuming that the network is secure once breached, Zero Trust assumes that the network has already been breached or could be breached at any time. This approach focuses on continuous monitoring, real-time threat detection, and rapid response to security incidents.


The zero trust security implementation gap

Not all IGA solutions are created equal, and many organizations have historically struggled with implementation. Organizations need to rethink the perimeter in the context of identity and the cloud for a modern approach to identity governance. If not, there can be serious consequences.

Most organizations aspire to create zero trust but are a great distance from achieving it. Statista reports that 97 percent of companies claimed to have zero trust security initiatives in 2022. However, one leading analyst firm reports that just one percent of companies currently have cybersecurity programs that operate on the assumption that threats may already exist within their networks and that both external and internal actors could potentially be malicious. Their systems do not automatically default deny every account, device, or application. They do not enforce strict privileged access controls and continuous verification of identities and devices, regardless of their location within or outside the network. In other words, they are not mature enough to meet the definition of zero trust.


Why do businesses need a modern IGA solution?

The breakdown of perimeters

It used to be that organizations focused on the perimeter when it came to security – this is the “castle and moat” analogy. The problem is that once inside the environment, attackers move with ease like any insider. Therefore, the castle is only secured from the outside. When employees worked mainly within an office, accessing mostly on-premise corporate resources, identity was not the key to security.

When it comes to thwarting external attacks, good perimeter security remains an essential part of any organization’s overall cybersecurity strategy. Today, however, significant shifts in where and how employees, contractors, partners, and vendors work have made perimeter security less of a factor in an organization’s ability to reduce the threat of security breaches.

A new landscape

It has been over two decades since we saw cracks in the traditional perimeter approach. The frequency, size, and scope data breaches put information security front and center. It is rare you speak to someone that has not lost their information in a data breach. Most governance problems that organizations face today are a result of these breaches and sometimes security failures by organizations. Now, add to that the fact that organizations have adopted cloud services and a massive increase in remote work, and it’s clear that the traditional perimeters have broken down. As the landscape has evolved, we are faced with new operational and governance challenges. In fact, in a survey conducted by the analysts at Enterprise Strategy Group, respondents reported that 52% of business-critical apps are now cloud-based rather than on-premises.

Improved access

What an Identity Governance and Administration (IGA) solution is supposed to do is know what access these various individuals should have inside your organization. A modern IGA automates security access in a fast, efficient, consistent, and accurate way – and at scale. And using a cloud-based IGA solution brings faster time-to-value to organizations and makes IGA more readily available to smaller organizations that would not otherwise be able to afford it.


The zero trust and identity connection

A modern approach to identity governance and administration provides critical identity information and business context, which helps with building out a zero trust model – if you want to make effective decisions in a zero trust model, you must have a better and/or deeper understanding of your users and the context (or contexts) that they operate in.

A growing number of organizations are taking advantage of what identity governance can do to help successfully implement zero trust.

Zero trust is not merely a matter for the IT department – it is a benefit for the entire organization. That is why key stakeholders must be involved in the process. They must understand the critical benefit this model offers, as well as the possible consequences if nothing changes.


A more secure future

The increase in remote work has led to a greater need for cloud-based identity and access management. Consequently, the governance of identities and their associated permissions has become one of the top five biggest cybersecurity priorities for most organizations. Adopting a full-featured, cloud-native IGA system is key to a zero trust strategy and to strengthening a company’s cybersecurity posture.

Learn more

Find out much more about how identity management and access governance processes match evolving business needs for governance and compliance or get in touch with us to learn more about how we have helped organizations like yours.

Learn more about Omada’s Best Practice Process framework for IGA

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